The Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals will square off in a do-or-die Game 7 in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series Wednesday night at TD Garden. Many media pundits and fans did not expect this series to go this far and be as close as it has been, but the defending champion Bruins are on the brink of elimination for the second time after tying the series with a 4-3 overtime win in Game 6 at Washington on Sunday. They showed in that game that they can win with their experience and play their game when they want to.
So to do that again and advance to the second round, here are seven keys to victory in Game 7 for the Bruins:
Set the tone early and maintain it -- If there is one thing the Bruins have shown they’re great at, it’s coming out of the gates guns a-blazing and dictating the tone of a game early. But they have also struggled to maintain that level of play as the game goes on, usually pulling their foot off the pedal in the second period and then finishing strong. The Capitals have shown they can withstand the Bruins' toughest shots and get back up off the canvas to gut out a win. Chances are, with how close this series has been, the Bruins won’t be able to pull too far ahead if they take an early lead, but the key is to maintain their best level of play. There must be no letting up.
Tim Thomas needs to be in me-versus-world mode -- Goaltender Tim Thomas has admitted that he has not been at his best the past two games. After pointing at his teammates' inability to score as a reason the series was tied at two after Game 4, it has been Thomas who has struggled to help preserve leads his teammates provided. Amazingly, there have been critics questioning his goaltending style again, even after all he has accomplished. But that may be just what the doctor ordered for Thomas and the Bruins, as we all know how Thomas performs when people doubt him. Thomas thrives off criticism and doubt, and it is time for him to go back into me-versus-the-world mode and silence the critics.
Bruins top guns must deliver -- Just as it was a common theme in the opening round of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, it has been here in this series with the Capitals: Everyone is wondering where the likes of Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand have been? Well, it took awhile but they all showed up the past two games, and the Bruins will need their collective best effort in Game 7.
The health of Patrice Bergeron -- The effort the Bruins will receive from alternate captain Patrice Bergeron goes without question. But what is in question still is the health of Bergeron and how it will affect him in Game 7. Bergeron was limited to one faceoff (that he won) in Game 6, and it was clear he was playing through pain. He was given a day off from practice Tuesday but will play in Game 7. The key is how limited he will be from an upper-body injury. But one thing the Bruins can get from Bergeron no matter how he performs is inspiration. Watching one of their leaders play through pain should inspire the Bruins to play their best.
Staying disciplined and keeping emotions in check -- This current Bruins core has often struggled with how to utilize emotions and physicality. Many times the Bruins use them to their advantage, but other times they have allowed the opponent to get under their collective skin. That cannot happen in a Game 7. One bad penalty could be the difference. Also, it is vital to maintain an even-keeled approach since so much of a do-or-die game is mental. The Bruins must walk that fine line in Game 7.
Special teams will be crucial -- As pointed out above, one bad penalty could cost the game, and the Bruins will need both their power play (which is 2-for-20 thus far) and their penalty kill (which has allowed only three goals on 18 Capitals power plays) to be at their best. Yes, the Bruins were able to win the Stanley Cup last year with the worst power play ever for a Cup champion, but that doesn’t mean they can do it again. In a Game 7, a special-teams goal either way will be crucial, so the Bruins' power play and penalty kill must be ready.
Have fun, embrace the atmosphere and thrive off experience – Bruins players admitted to butterflies after practice Tuesday, but they were also in good spirits and clearly were embracing the excitement and opportunity of another Game 7. They must translate that excitement onto the ice in Game 7 and remember how they got through three Game 7s en route to the Stanley Cup last year. This is what sports is all about, and there really is nothing like a Game 7, especially in the Stanley Cup playoffs. They must remember that and embrace it.